Family Doctor Services

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:37 pm on 11th November 2004.

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Photo of Paul Burstow Paul Burstow Shadow Secretary of State for Health 2:37 pm, 11th November 2004

I am sure that is so. We need to re-examine the role of the GP and how some of the tasks hitherto undertaken by a GP can be taken on by others who have a great deal to contribute. For many years community pharmacists have felt undermined and undervalued within the system and as though they were not seen as part of the primary care team. There are now opportunities to overcome that.

It is not just the role of pharmacists that can be expanded. There is also scope, for example, to develop the role of therapists, particularly physiotherapists. I was struck by a pilot scheme undertaken in the Forth Valley primary care trust over a 30-month period, which looked at opportunities for self-referral to NHS physiotherapy services in a primary care-led setting. The study found that that had significantly reduced GP workloads. People were choosing to go not to the GP but to the physio, possibly to deal with problems of back pain. That had a marked impact on individuals' quality of life and reduced GPs' work load so that they could concentrate on other tasks, not least issues relating to the management of chronic disease.

Other possibilities such as nurse prescribing, nurse-led practices and therapist-led clinics are providing new career paths for professions that we need to attract into primary care, and are freeing up GP time. These changes in the roles of nurses and therapists are crucial to ensuring that we start to tackle the shortages in these professions.

What is being done with the time that GPs have? The Government's obsession with targets is of real concern to GPs. For example, follow-up appointments are delayed and deferred to ensure that first appointment waiting time targets are hit. Diseases with a target attached take priority over those without a target. GPs end up playing piggy in the middle as frustrated patients turn up at the surgery asking for their appointment with consultants and others to be expedited. It is not just targets in secondary care that need to be scrapped. The 48-hour access target is leading to all sorts of wheezes to game the system.